I’m not sure why, but I was expecting a little more ceremony when I arrived in Maranello to drive the LaFerrari. By some margin this is the fastest, most powerful and expensive Ferrari ever intended primarily for road use and when you divide that power (950bhp) by its weight (1410kg at the kerb) you’ll realise it is also probably the most potent fully homologated road car ever made not just by Ferrari, but anyone.
But there it was just parked outside the famous archway through which so many Ferraris have poked their noses before growling, howling, screaming and shrieking their way up Via Abetone and away. There was no cover to be swept away to reveal the beast beneath, no drum rolls, no trumpet fanfare. But this is the Ferrari way – I remember exactly the same procedure when I first came here over 20 years ago to drive a 456GT. The key is here, the hills are there, the car will speak for itself.
So you just get in and drive. Unlike its biggest rival, the McLaren P1, it doesn’t wear its hybrid architecture on its sleeve. There’s no push to pass button here, nor driver-deployable DRS. It can’t run on electric power alone nor, for that matter, petrol power only. Everything from the electric motor behind the rear wheels to ever-adjusting rear wing and front and rear diffusers is integrated.
In fact unless you call up a gauge on the TFT screen in front you which will tell you when the electrics are boosting, charging and so on, you might never know it was a hybrid at all. The McLaren system is far more overtly clever but when I drove it I found all the extra buttons soon befuddled my rather small brain and I preferred it by far when all was set to automatic, just as does the LaFerrari.
There’s no right or wrong to each approach – the McLaren is far more driver-configurable and will still do it all for you if you want, while the Ferrari denies you those choices but instead provides even more power with even less weight. Which is preferable is an entirely academic point because all 375 P1s and 499 LaFerraris have been sold and if you’re one of what I understand to be quite a few people who’ve elected to have both, I’d be delighted to hear from you…
In the meantime I’m sitting here wondering if driving a Ferrari with damn near 1000bhp really should be this easy. I remember well how gloriously truculent was the F40, at least until you found enough space to drive it the way it wanted to be driven. But the LaFerrari trundles along in the traffic happily enough, rides rather well and is as quiet as you could reasonably expect any supercar to be with a 6.3-litre V12 bolted to its back. It turns out this easy sophistication is actually its single most important trait.
Let me explain. It’s fine for an F40 to ask a lot of its driver because its 478bhp makes the car merely explosively quick and, if you are reasonably experienced and have a little skill, you can cope with it and even learn to enjoy its sometimes curmudgeonly ways. But the LaFerrari’s motors produce almost exactly double the power, and if the car to which they are attached were not very friendly indeed, the result would be at best unusable, at worst a pure and simple menace.
Even as it is you can’t experience most let alone all of what the LaFerrari has to offer even on the routes used by Ferrari’s own test teams. Every input has to be measured and considered, you never get close to using all the power and you exist in a state of perpetual anxiety as to how other road users are going to react to seeing a car that low and that red going that fast.
Insofar as all you’re reminded of on these roads is how much of its potential remains unused, it has too much performance. Perhaps there are other roads that will let you safely deploy more of its potential, but all of it? Away from the autobahn, not a chance. The car is just too fast.
Straights don’t really exist in the conventional sense: you see them hove into view but by the time you’ve brain has climbed on top of the wallop in the back, the howling in your ears and its insatiable demand for gears, all it can do is advise you to drill the left hand pedal into the floor to make it all stop.
So you need a track and, happily, Ferrari has one. Here you’ll find a car that given sufficient traction will hit 100mph in less than 5sec, which is about the time it takes a normal, Porsche 911-type fast car to reach 60mph. Ten seconds after that you’d be closing on 190mph were it not for the fact that at Fiorano you’d have already crashed. Around 170mph is the limit here which as you reach it in the middle of kink in the main straight and have to hit the brakes while still cornering is plenty fast enough.
The LaFerrari laps the track around 6sec faster than any previous Ferrari road car which translates to around 12sec around the twice as long lap of the Silverstone GP circuit. It’s not the difference between pole and the back of the grid but pole and the support race.
And Ferrari, to its eternal credit, just let me go. No pace car to follow, no instructions to leave the stability systems switched in. I’ve even known some manufacturers artificially limit top speed or make it impossible to turn the traction control off in their attempts to prevent journalists redecorating the Armco with their cars. But not this manufacturer.
I’m not going to refer extensively to the P1 because I drove that around a track that’s faster and trickier than Fiorano which I’d not visited before, whereas I’ve been lucky enough to lap the Ferrari facility enough to say I know it reasonably well. But when someone does get the two together I’d be amazed if the Ferrari were not quicker in a straight line, though over a lap of a high-downforce circuit, my money would be on the McLaren.
However good the Ferrari is, it cannot perform the P1 party piece of sinking on its suspension and tripling its spring rate for track use. And while the way both companies quote their downforce figures means they cannot be directly compared, I’d expect the McLaren to have the edge here too.
Does this matter beyond custody of the bragging rights? Of course not. These are road not racing cars and how they go fast will always be more important than how fast they go. And the LaFerrari goes fast beautifully. It’s not docile – you’d not want that – but it is unequivocally on your side. I’ve been far more scared by Ferraris with one third of this power (the 348tb springs to mind) than I was of the LaFerrari.
Because of the way the electric motor fills in the torque curve from literally idling speed, it delivers power evenly all the way from rest to 9250rpm and with such precision that the initially ludicrous notion of drifting it out of Fiorano’s turns out to be an eminently achievable outcome. You just turn in on a trailing throttle and then apply whatever amount of power is required to place the back where you want it.
I’ll go into the entire experience in greater depth in the next issue of Motor Sport but for now be assured Ferrari has excelled itself with its new hypercar. I never drove its predecessor but did its very similar Maserati MC12 sister and didn’t much care for it. I really liked the F50 because it was incredibly easy to drive, but so too was it hideous and, for me impossible to drive with the roof on. The 288GTO was the reverse: utterly gorgeous and I didn’t trust it an inch.
Which is why I have always said the greatest Ferrari I’ve driven is the F40, which could be spectacularly bad-tempered if you woke it for any reason other than to drive as fast as you possibly could, but driven as its maker intended was nothing short of sublime. That the LaFerrari is far faster and more capable is a given, but it is also both even more exciting and forgiving too. And that is why I’m having to change the record.
It’s taken over a quarter of a century but the F40 has finally been eclipsed. Of all things, a Ferrari must be fast, beautiful, challenging, entertaining, indulging and inspiring. And this one is, to a point far past that of any former Ferrari road car. It stands as the greatest supercar produced by the greatest supercar constructor of them all and right now I cannot begin to conceive what kind of car Ferrari is going to have to produce to eclipse it. They say they already have some ideas, and we’ll find out the answer in 2021.